Unreal Nature

May 8, 2009

Power Source

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:08 am

We judge a work on its integrity. Often we examine a work’s integrity (or at least I do) by asking what it makes for itself and what it attempts to borrow from the world. Sentimental art, for instance, attempts to force preexistent emotions upon us. Instead of creating characters and events which will elicit special feelings unique to the text, sentimental art merely gestures toward stock characters and events whose accompanying emotions come on tap. Bad poetry is almost always bad because it attempts to claim for itself the real power of whatever it describes in ten lines: a sky full of stars, first love, or Niagara Falls. An honest work generates its own power; a dishonest work tries to rob power from the cataracts of the given. That is why scenes of high drama — suicide, rape, murder, incest — or scenes of great beauty are so difficult to do well in genuine literature. We already have strong feelings about these things, and literature does not operate on borrowed feelings.

As in the realm of feeling, so in the realm of intellect. Naming your characters Aristotle and Plato is not going to make their relationship interesting unless you make it so on the page; having your character shoot himself in the end does not mean that anyone has learned anything; and setting your novel in Buchenwald does not give it moral significance.

— from Living by Fiction by Annie Dillard (1982)

Something to think about reference photography.



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